Incorporating food web dynamics into ecological restoration: A modeling approach for river ecosystems

Ecological Applications
By: , and 



Restoration is frequently aimed at the recovery of target species, but also influences the larger food web in which these species participate. Effects of restoration on this broader network of organisms can influence target species both directly and indirectly via changes in energy flow through food webs. To help incorporate these complexities into river restoration planning we constructed a model that links river food web dynamics to in-stream physical habitat and riparian vegetation conditions. We present an application of the model to the Methow River, Washington (USA), a location of on-going restoration aimed at recovering salmon. Three restoration strategies were simulated: riparian vegetation restoration, nutrient augmentation via salmon carcass addition, and side-channel reconnection. We also added populations of nonnative aquatic snails and fish to the modeled food web to explore how changes in food web structure mediate responses to restoration. Simulations suggest that side-channel reconnection may be a better strategy than carcass addition and vegetation planting for improving conditions for salmon in this river segment. However, modeled responses were strongly sensitive to changes in the structure of the food web. The addition of nonnative snails and fish modified pathways of energy through the food web, which negated restoration improvements. This finding illustrates that forecasting responses to restoration may require accounting for the structure of food webs, and that changes in this structure—as might be expected with the spread of invasive species—could compromise restoration outcomes. Unlike habitat-based approaches to restoration assessment that focus on the direct effects of physical habitat conditions on single species of interest, our approach dynamically links the success of target organisms to the success of competitors, predators, and prey. By elucidating the direct and indirect pathways by which restoration affects target species, dynamic food web models can improve restoration planning by fostering a deeper understanding of system connectedness and dynamics.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Incorporating food web dynamics into ecological restoration: A modeling approach for river ecosystems
Series title Ecological Applications
DOI 10.1002/eap.1486
Volume 27
Issue 3
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 19 p.
First page 814
Last page 832
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Methow River
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